Today Early Years Minister, Elizabeth Truss, announces the Government’s latest plans to shake-up our childcare system. Truss (nick-named Iron Lady 2 by Total Politics) will tell the Policy Exchange later today about the Coalition’s proposals to reduce the staff to child ratios in our nurseries.
In a nutshell, nurseries and childminders will now be able to able to look after more children (or employ fewer staff, depending on how you look at it).
So here are the current and prospective ratios.
Under ones and one-year olds – 1:3, post-Truss, 1:4
Two-year olds – 1: 4, post-Truss, 1:6
Three-year olds – 1: 8 (or 1:13, if teacher-led), post-Trust, stays the same.
In addition, Truss proposes to relax the requirements on childminders to allow them to look after up to four under-fives (two of which may be under one). The current limit (subject to certain exceptions) is three and one respectively.
So what’s the thinking behind this?
Well, Truss believes it will help parents by making childcare more accessible and more affordable. It will (she argues) improve standards and staff pay. More kids equals more money. Yep, all those nursery owners are going to pass their savings straight on to parents and staff.
For Truss, it’s the quality of care that’s important. Although quality here means the qualification (in the narrowest sense) of the person giving the care. Truss wants more graduates in the early years sector. She also wants to make sure all early years professionals have a GCSE grade C or above in English and Maths.
Truss dismisses the suggestion that having fewer staff to look after very young children will result in less care. Quite how a nursery diploma or GCSE pass in maths helps you grown the extra pair of hands and eyes necessary to change two nappies simultaneously while keeping an eye on robustious two-year old twins remains a mystery.
Perhaps I’m a sad case of “over-education” but I can honestly say that nothing I learned at school or university prepared me for the demands of motherhood. And, despite what Truss says, I don’t think it’s because I picked the wrong course.
(OK, three years reading Old English and Medieval French at Cambridge doesn’t have many practical applications. But at least it left me with some good coping strategies; familiarity with late nights, an insistence on some time alone with a good book and a glass of decent wine).
I don’t think this shortcoming makes me a bad mother. And I don’t think you need GCSES or a diploma, or a degree in Anthropology, or whatever, to be a good mother. Not even Truss is suggesting that.
But I do think she misses the crucial point. Here’s her answer when asked if she could look after so many children:
“It is telling that I am often asked whether I would be able to look after a certain number of children. I think this line of thinking betrays an attitude that “anyone can do the job”. I don’t start from the premise that anyone can be an early educator. It is an extremely demanding job that requires great and specific expertise.”
Being an early educator (her term, not mine) is possibly the most demanding job ever. As mothers, it’s one we do (as best we can) day-in, day-out, with no pay but total committment. We soon realise that the most important quality isn’t our mathematical ability or our literary prowess. It’s care.
(To be honest, J never even bought into Baby Mozart. Throughout his infancy, he was blissfully unconcerned about intellectual shortcomings. Like most babies he wanted food, security, warmth, play (often in no particular order, and always with great urgency).)_
When I left J at nursery, did I care whether his key worker had a maths GCSE? No, I wanted to know that he would be properly looked after; fed when he was hungry and cuddled when he cried.